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Gut Health

Get an Edge with Enzymes

Discover 5 great ways to benefit from enzyme supplements.

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Enzymes are specialized proteins that play a key role in every single function that occurs in the human body. Each type of enzyme has a specific job, and having the right enzyme is like having the right key to open a specific lock. For instance, the fat-digesting enzyme lipase can only break down the fats you eat. It has no effect on carbohydrates or protein. Read on to learn more about enzymes and ways to benefit from them.

Taking Digestive Enzymes

1. Enhance Digestion

Enzymes are essential for the breakdown of food and the absorption of nutrients. In fact, enzymes are involved in at least 4,000 biochemical reactions essential to life-and about half of these reactions involve digestion. Among the most important enzymes are protease, lipase, and amylase.

As mentioned above, each of these enzymes works to digest a specific type of macronutrient. Protease breaks apart protein. Lipase processes fat. And amylase digests carbohydrates. Without these three enzymes, your body wouldn’t be able to process that cheeseburger you had for lunch. Taking a broad spectrum of digestive enzymes in supplement form helps to ensure that your digestive tract has sufficient enzymes to deal with the foods you eat. Since food rarely contains only protein, fat, or carbohydrates, it’s wise to choose a supplement that contains a blend of enzymes to ensure complete digestion.

2. Eradicate Heartburn

Too often, mealtime can end with a case of indigestion. Digestive enzymes to the rescue! How well do digestive enzymes work? A double-blind crossover study conducted at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center found that taking enzymes along with a high-calorie, high-fat meal significantly reduced bloating, gas, and the feeling of fullness. Another randomized, placebo-controlled trial found that people with chronic dyspepsia who took a daily dose of enzymes after their two largest meals of the day had significantly less abdominal pain, distention, belching, diarrhea, and heartburn after just two weeks.

3. Restore Age-Related Enzyme Deficiencies

When you were young, your body created all of the enzymes needed for healthy and complete digestion. That may be why you could eat whatever you wanted during your high school and college years. But as you aged, this production began to slow down. Not only can this create a deficiency in the critical enzymes needed for good digestion, it can also leave you with post-meal indigestion.

In a perfect world, you could replenish all of the enzymes you need through the foods you eat. But that’s more easily said than done. Whenever food is processed or cooked, enzymes are destroyed. Fortunately, you can fortify your body’s supply with a variety of supplemental enzymes. When taken with food, digestive enzymes provide your body with the tools it needs to digest that food-so the pancreas doesn’t have to produce its own enzymes, which puts less overall demand on the digestive system.

Most enzyme supplements provide only the four major digestive enzymes-amylase, lactase, lipase, and protease. These work to digest carbohydrates, milk sugar, fat, and protein respectively. But for complete digestion, it’s smart to look for a supplement that also includes bromelain-a proteolytic enzyme derived from pineapple-and cellulase, another plant-based enzyme that breaks down dietary fiber.

4. Guard Against Food Intolerances

If you have intolerances to certain foods (e.g., gluten, dairy) or find that certain foods (e.g., beans, cruciferous vegetables) disagree with you, enzymes can help. Newer formulations include specific enzymes to target common food intolerances such as gluten, as well as higher potencies of other enzymes to counteract possible reactions to diary, beans, and other hard-to-digest foods. These blends are great to take when dining out. Even when you think a restaurant dish is free of potentially allergenic ingredients, it may not be, and enzymes can provide an extra level of protection. Choose from products targeting a single food, or combination formulas addressing a range of problematic foods.

5. Relieve Pain and Inflammation

Systemic enzymes are similar to digestive enzymes with one big difference-they work within the bloodstream rather than the digestive system. Systemic enzymes such as serrapeptase support overall health, but they are best known for their anti-inflammatory power. They can also help thin excess mucus and support the breakdown of toxins, allergens, and unhealthy levels of fibrin in the blood (related to clotting). Systemic enzymes are best taken on an empty stomach. Use in place of NSAIDs such as ibuprofen for pain relief.

Top 6 Gastrointestinal Adversaries

In addition to taking enzyme supplements to improve your digestion, consider modifying your diet, if necessary.

Alcohol. A joint study from Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic found that even moderate alcohol consumption could lead to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) and subsequently cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, gas, abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea. Alcohol also relaxes the esophageal sphincter. This can lead to heartburn.

Artificial Sweeteners. Swiss researchers report in the journal Obesity Reviews that fructose, sugar alcohols, and artificial sweeteners can change how gut bacteria metabolize energy.
Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols can also cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Even
“natural” sugar can wreak havoc by triggering inflammation.

Chocolate. Your sweet tooth may affect more than just your waistline. Caffeine contained in chocolate may trigger heartburn and IBS symptoms in people prone to digestive disorders. What’s more, like coffee, chocolate is a diuretic, which can result in loose stools.

Coffee. This popular beverage stimulates the production of stomach acid, which can trigger inflammation and the symptoms of GERD or heartburn.

Fatty foods. Both high-fat and fried food can overwhelm the stomach, resulting in a feeling of fullness and indigestion. High-fat food also can result in pale-colored stool, a phenomenon called steatorrhea, which is essentially excess fat in the feces.

Gluten. Found in wheat, barley, rye, and spelt, gluten consists of two proteins-gliadin and glutenin. It’s the gliadin that people react negatively to. Studies show that gluten can cause an immune reaction that degrades the barrier function of the intestinal wall. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies and a wide range of symptoms, including eczema, fatigue, and a failure to thrive. During one clinical trial, those with irritable bowel syndrome had more pain, bloating, stool inconsistency, and fatigue when eating a diet containing gluten.

Product Picks

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